July 14, 2011
Junko Mizuno – Last Gasp – 2005 – 1 volume
I’m sorry to say, I’m not the biggest fan of Junko Mizuno. Don’t get me wrong, I adore her art, and I am in awe at just how many details were crammed into every panel of this series, both in terms of artwork and sheer inventiveness of the setting and world the story takes place in. She is unique, which is why I bought this to try it out.
It’s just… hm. I have the same problem with her that I have with Suehiro Maruo. Both are such good illustrators that the detail in their work takes away from the sequential experience. Any art that is so detailed that I have to stop the progress of the story to study each panel slows things down considerably, and takes me out of the story. It seems strange to complain that the art is too good, but in a sense, that reflects my experiences with both artists. I know this is mostly my taste, because my roommate is the type of person that does study each panel as he reads, and gets bored when there’s not enough to look at. Both types of readers exist, and part of me is a little sad that books like this just aren’t for me.
I’m also a little… intimidated by the story here. At first, I hated it. The world it’s set in is so crazy and bears so little relation to our world, with no explanation, that it is really hard to get into. The characters work at an overeating clinic? Except the only food available is in pill form? And all the patients are the same doll-type character designs as all the nurses, and don’t really look obese? This is explained by the fact that overeating causes “eating disorders” similar to bulemia, but it still took some getting used to. The director of this clinic wails on the nurses periodically for helping patients and foiling her plans that frequently accidentally kill people?
After awhile, you can wrap your brain around all this, and the story emerges. The director, while hung over, trips over life support machines and kills three women. They had been pregnant, and their children had been placed in artificial wombs while they were cured of their overeating disorders. Nurse Kaori cares for the children, but when she has to stop the director from killing them one day, the director chains her up and whips her until one of the robots at the center takes pity on them and frees the children and Kaori. The world of the story is underground, with the area above ground apparently spoiled during the last world war. Kaori and the children flee above ground, which is now a lush jungle with all manner of plant life, and they live lives as they wish, free of pill food and the bizarre cruelty of other people. But the Director wants to kill Kaori, and she sends agents above ground to find her and bring her back.
It’s actually a pretty great story once it gets going, and the amount of detail that Mizuno puts into the city, the hobbies and habits of the characters, and all the plant and animal life on the surface is really astounding. The format of the comic doesn’t quite fill the book, so running at the bottom of every page is either a little illustration or a “description” of some minor character or item of ephemera in the series that may or may not be related to what’s going on. Notices about how the pandas at the zoo aren’t as cute as they look on TV. That most of the scars on one of the main characters is self-inflicted. That one of the characters does a meat dance. Descriptions of both a Nurse Bar and a Female Wrestler Bar at appropriate points in the story. Anything you could possibly want to know about… well, anything, anything at all that Mizuno has drawn into any of the panels (and she’s drawn A LOT) is footnoted at the bottom of every page.
And what about the drawings? I left this part out, because I assume that most people who read this are going to be familiar with Mizuno’s unusual art. She draws in a very cutesy style, with all manner of little stuffed animals, and almost all the characters are beautiful, buxom, doll-like cartoon women. They are normally scantily clad, and engage in all manner of disturbing activities, such as s&m, going crazy at the sight of meat, frequently fight and wrestle each other, sometimes with chainsaws, and often murder each other or adorable animals. Absolutely everything about this series, from the gratuitous violence to the beds the women sleep in, the plantlife and all the animals, and even the buildings and things like telephones… all of it is adorable, and rendered in the same cute, overly-cartoony style. It’s what makes Junko Mizuno special. It’s not a look for everyone, and as I said, it’s a little busy for my taste, but that doesn’t take away from what the art does well at all.
The end to the book is nothing short of amazing, too. Remember how I said that the pace was too slow for me? Well, that completely changes at the end. It’s not clear until the end of the book where all this crazy stuff is going, and as all the storylines draw to a close, the panels are interspersed with one another, everything happens at once in an insane crescendo that ends with… well, the beginning and the end of life, I suppose. It’s amazing, and if nothing else, I admired it a great deal for executing a perfect ending.
There’s a lot to like here, and it’s certainly a wonderful book to have. Again, the style isn’t what I like in comic art, but I can admit that my taste should not reflect badly on this book. It’s got gorgeous art and an amazing amount of detail crammed into an almost psychedelic world with a crazy story that only gets more sane the more you read. It’s amazing. I didn’t think that even before I wrote this article, but I can say that now. It’s amazing. A very special book.